Q&A: Fionnuala Fagan
The Belfast-based singer-songwriter and sound installation artist (31) recently launched her latest double-disc album, Dreaming Protected Me, which portrays the experiences of six people who lived through the Bosnian conflict and the Troubles in their own words
Your album, Dreaming Protected Me, deals with two very sensitive subjects. How did the idea come about?
It was a result of visiting Bosnia two years ago with local theatre company Prime Cut Productions. They were taking artists in Northern Ireland to work with the Bosnia theatre company East West, running artistic workshops, discussing conflict and world atrocities. When I came home from it, I felt really quite devastated and shocked.
The songs are unique in that they tell real stories. How did you put everything together?
After about four months, I decided I would interview people from each country. In April 2012 I went to Derry, as the Bosnian artists were visiting there. I asked three of them if I could interview them. Then I decided to interview two people from here about their experiences of living in Northern Ireland.
You launched the album at the MAC recently with a live performance, incorporating a personal poem. Did you feel a connection to the stories?
I had gone through my whole life saying I was largely unaffected by the Troubles. What I discovered in Bosnia was, I could relate to what the Bosnian artists were saying of their experience of society. It was the first time I realised I was affected by the conflict. We're conditioned in a way that we might not have been if the Troubles hadn't been there.
This isn't the first time you've written verbatim songs. What was your first foray into this type of performance work?
I did Homebird with my grandmother, which was about her family emigrating to California in the 1940s. She was 19 years old – the eldest of a family of ten children – but she refused to go. Homebird takes you through the journey of her experience.
Stories of the City: Sailortown was next. What was this about?
Sailortown was a really bustling area in Belfast before the 1960s. They knocked down the majority of the housing there, where the sailors' families would have been living. They shipped people out and told them that once the M2 was built, they would rebuild better housing, but that never happened and the community became displaced in north Belfast.
You obviously feel strongly about keeping the history of oral tradition alive...
My intention from the beginning – with my grandmother – was, I knew her story was so interesting and it was part of my history and the country's history. I felt it was an important story to save and I wanted to give it value. In the same way, the Sailortown community and their stories have an important place in the history of Belfast.
You play the piano and violin, as well as sing. Has your career been influenced by a musical upbringing?
My grandfather had a ceili band in the 1960s, The Eddie Fagan Ceili Band. They released an LP and he played in the big dance halls in Belfast. My aunt is a singer and my dad plays guitar and the whistle, and would sing. My mum played too and my brother plays guitar and sings!
For details on Fionnuala's work, visit fionnualafagan.bandcamp.com.